Mystic Isles of the South Seas
Ia Ora Na!
This is a simple record of my days and nights, my thoughts and dreams, in the mystic isles of the South Seas, written without authority of science or exactitude of knowledge. These are merely the vivid impressions of my life in Tahiti and Moorea, the merriest, most fascinating world of all the cosmos; of the songs I sang, the dances I danced, the men and women, white and tawny, with whom I was joyous or melancholy; the adventures at sea or on the reef, upon the sapphire lagoon, and on the silver beaches of the most beautiful of tropics.
In this volume are no discoveries unless in the heart of the human. I went to the islands below the equator with one thought—to play. All that I have set down here is the profit of that spirit.
The soul of man is afflicted by the machine he has fashioned through the ages to achieve his triumph over matter. In this light chronicle I would offer the reader an anodyne for a few hours, of transport to the other side of our sphere, where are the loveliest scenes the eyes may find upon the round of the globe, the gentlest climate of all the latitudes, the most whimsical whites, and the dearest savages I have known.
"Mystic Isles of the South Seas" precedes in experience my former book, "White Shadows in the South Seas," and will be followed by "Atolls of the Sun," which will be the account of a visit to, and a dwelling on, the blazing coral wreaths of the Dangerous Archipelago, where the strange is commonplace, and the marvel is the probability of the hour.
These three volumes will cover the period I spent during three journeys with the remnants of the most amazing of uncivilized races, whose discovery startled the old world, and whom another generation will cease to know.
Kaoha, Sausalito, California.
In this book the reader may be tempted to stumble over some foreign words. I have put them in only when necessary, to give the color and rhythm of Tahiti. The Tahitian words are very easily pronounced and they are music in the mouth of any one who sounds them properly. Every letter and syllable is pronounced plainly. The letters have the Latin value and if one will remember this in reading, the Tahitian words will flow mellifluously. For instance, "tane" is pronounced "tah-nay," "maru" is pronounced "mah-ru." "Tiare" is "tee-ah-ray." The Tahitian language is dying fast, as are the Tahitians. Its beauties are worth the few efforts necessary for the reader to scan them.
Departure from San Francisco—Nature man left behind—Fellow-passengers on the Noa-Noa—Tragedy of the Chinese pundit—Strange stories of the South Seas—The Tahitian Hula
The Discovery of Tahiti—Marvelous isles and people—Hailed by a wind-jammer—Middle of the voyage—Tahiti on the horizon—Ashore in Papeete
Description of Tahiti—A volcanic rock and coral reef—Beauty of the scenery—Papeete the center of the South Seas—Appearance of the Tahitians
The Tiare Hotel—Lovaina the hostess, the best-known woman in the South Seas—Her strange menage—The Dummy—A one-sided tryst—An old-fashioned cocktail—The Argentine training ship
The Parc de Bougainville—Ivan Stroganoff—He tells me the history of Tahiti—He berates the Tahitians—Wants me to start a newspaper
The Cercle Bougainville—Officialdom in Tahiti—My first visit to the Bougainville—Skippers and merchants—A song and a drink—The flavor of the South Seas—Rumors of war
The Noa-Noa comes to port—Papeete en fete—Rare scene at the Tiare Hotel—The New Year celebrated—Excitement at the wharf—Battle of the Limes and Coal
Gossip in Papeete—Moorea, a near-by island—A two-days' excursion there—Magnificent scenery from the sea—Island of fairy folk—Landing and preparation for the feast—The First Christian Mission—A canoe on the lagoon—Beauties of the sea-garden
The Arearea in the pavilion—Raw fish and baked feis—Llewellyn, the Master of the Revel; Kelly, the I. W. W. and his himene—The Upaupahura—Landers and Mamoe prove experts—The return to Papeete
The storm on the lagoon; making safe the schooners—A talk on missing ships—A singular coincidence—Arrival of three of the crew of the shipwrecked El Dorado—The Dutchman's Story—Easter Island
I move to the Annexe—Description of the building—The baroness and her baby—Evoa and Poia—The corals of the lagoon—The Chinese shrine—The Tahitian sky
The princess suggests a walk to the falls of Fautaua, where Loti went with Rarahu—We start in the morning—The suburbs of Papeete—The Pool of Loti—The birds, trees and plants—A swim in a pool—Arrival at the cascade—Luncheon and a siesta—We climb the height—The princess tells of Tahitian women—The Fashoda fright
The beach-combers of Papeete—The consuls tell their troubles—A bogus lord—The American boot-blacks—The cowboy in the hospital—Ormsby, the supercargo—The death of Tahia—The Christchurch Kid—The Nature men—Ivan Stroganoff's desire for a new gland
The market in Papeete—Coffee at Shin Bung Lung's with a prince—Fish the chief item—Description of them—The vegetables and fruits—The fish strike—Rumors of an uprising—Kelly and the I. W. W.—The mysterious session at Fa'a—Hallelujah! I'm a Bum!—the strike is broken
A drive to Papenoo—The chief of Papenoo—A dinner and poker on the bench—Incidents of the game—Breakfast the next morning—The chief tells his story—The journey back—The leper child and her doll—The Alliance Francaise—Bemis and his daughter—The band concert and the fire—The prize-fight—My bowl of velvet
A journey to Mataiea—I abandon city life—Interesting sights on the route—The Grotto of Maraa—Papara and the Chief Tati—The plantation of Atimaono—My host, the Chevalier Tetuanui
My life in the house of Tetuanui—Whence came the Polynesians—A migration from Malaysia—Their legends of the past—Condition of Tahiti when the white came—The great navigator, Cook—Tetuanui tells of old Tahiti
The reef and the lagoon—Wonders of marine life—Fishing with spears and nets—Sponges and hermit crabs—Fish of many colors—Ancient canoes of Tahiti—A visit to Vaihiria and legends told there
The Arioi, minstrels of the tropics—Lovaina tells of the infanticide—Theories of depopulation—Methods of the Arioi—Destroyed by missionaries
Rupert Brooke and I discuss Tahiti—We go to a wedding feast—How the cloth was spread—What we ate and drank—A Gargantuan feeder—Songs and dances of passion—The royal feast at Tetuanui's—I leave for Vairao—Butscher and the Lermantoffs
A heathen temple—The great Marae of Oberea—I visit it with Rupert Brooke and Chief Tetuanui—The Tahitian religion of old—The wisdom of folly
I start for Tautira—A dangerous adventure in a canoe—I go by land to Tautira—I meet Choti and the Greek god—I take up my home where Stevenson lived
My life at Tautira—The way I cook my food—Ancient Tahitian sports—Swimming and fishing—A night hunt for shrimp and eels
In the days of Captain Cook—The first Spanish missionaries—Difficulties of converting the heathens—Wars over Christianity—Ori-a-Ori, the chief, friend of Stevenson—We read the Bible together—The church and the himene
I meet a sorcerer—Power over fire—The mystery of the fiery furnace—The scene in the forest—Walking over the white-hot stones—Origin of the rite
Farewell to Tautira—My good-bye feast—Back at the Tiare—A talk with Lovaina—The Cercle Bougainville—Death of David—My visit to the cemetery—Off for the Marquesas
MYSTIC ISLES OF THE SOUTH SEAS
Departure from San Francisco—Nature man left behind—Fellow-passengers on the Noa-Noa—Tragedy of the Chinese pundit—Strange stories of the South Seas—The Tahitian Hula.
The warning gong had sent all but crew and passengers ashore, though our ship did not leave the dock. Her great bulk still lay along the piling, though the gangway was withdrawn. The small groups on the pier waited tensely for the last words with those departing. These passengers were inwardly bored with the prolonged farewells, and wanted to be free to observe their fellow-voyagers and the movement of the ship. They conversed in shouts with those ashore, but most of the meanings were lost in the noise of the shuffling of baggage and freight, the whistling of ferries, and the usual turmoil of the San Francisco waterfront. I was glad that none had come to see me off, for I was curious about my unknown companions upon the long traverse to the South Seas, and I had wilfully put behind me all that America and Europe held to adventure in the vasts of ocean below the equator.
But the whistle I awaited to sound our leaving was silent. Officers of the ship rushed about as if bent on relieving her of some pressing danger, and I caught fragments of orders and replies which indicated that until a search was completed she could not stir on her journey. Then I heard cries of anger and protest, and caught a glimpse of a man whose appearance provoked confusing emotions of astonishment, admiration, and laughter. He was dressed in a Roman toga of rough monk's-cloth, and had on sandals. He was being hustled bodily over the restored gangway, and was resisting valiantly the second officer, purser, and steward, who were hardly able to move him, so powerfully was he made. One of his sandals suddenly fell into the bay. He had seized hold of the rail of the gangway, and the leather sandal dropped into the water with a slight splash. His grasp of the rail being broken, he was gradually being pushed, limping, to the dock. His one bare foot and his half-exposed and shapely body caused a gale of laughter from the docks and the wharf.
The gangway was quickly withdrawn, and our ship began to move from the shore. The ejected one stood watching us with sorrow shadowing his large eyes. He was of middle size; with the form of a David of Michelangelo, though lithe, and he wore no hat, but had a long, brown beard, which, with his brown hair, parted in the middle and falling over his shoulders, and his archaic garb, gave me a singular shock. It was as if a boyhood vision, or something seen in a painting, was made real. His eyes were the deepest blue, limpid and appealing, and I felt like shouting out that if it was a matter of money, I would aid the man in the toga.
"Christ!" yelled the frantic dock superintendent. "Get that line cast off and let her go! Are you ceemented to that hooker?"
Instantly before me came Munkacsy's picture of the Master before Pilate, evoked by the profanity of the wharf boss, but explaining the vision of a moment ago. The Noa-Noa emitted a cry from her iron throat. The engines started, and the distance between our deck and the pier grew as our bow swung toward the Golden Gate. The strange man who had been put ashore, with his one sandal in his hand, and holding his torn toga about him, hastened to the nearest stringer of the wharf and waved good-by to us. It was as if a prophet, or even Saul of Tarsus, blessed us in our quest. He stood on a tall group of piles, and called out something indistinguishable.
The passengers hurried below, to return in coats and caps to meet the wind that blows from China, and the second officer and the surgeon came by, talking animatedly.
"Oh, yus," said the seaman, chuckling, "'e wuz 'auled out finally. The beggar 'ad 'id 'imself good and proper this time. 'E wuz in the linen-closet, and 'ad disguised 'imself as a bundle o' bloomin' barth-towels. 'E wuz a reg'lar grand Turk, 'e wuz. Blow me, if you'd 'a' knowed 'im from a bale of 'em, 'e wuz so wrapped up in 'em. 'E almost 'ad us 'ull down this time. The blighter made a bit of a row, and said as 'ow he just could n't 'elp stowin' aw'y every boat for T'iti."
"He's a bally nut," said the surgeon. "I say, though, he did take me back to Sunday school."
I recalled a man who walked the streets of San Francisco carrying a small sign in his upraised hand, "Christ has come!" He looked neither to the right nor the left, but bore his curious announcement among the crowds downtown, which smiled jestingly at him, or looked frightened at the message. If many had believed him, the panic would have been illimitable. He was dressed in a brown cassock, and looked like the blue-eyed man who had been refused passage to my destination. Probably, that American in the toga and sandals, exiled from the island he loved so well, had a message for the Tahitians or others of the Polynesian tribes of the South Seas; Essenism, maybe, or something to do with virginal beards and long hair, or sandals and the simple life. I wished he were with us.
We were in the Golden Gate now, that magnificent opening in the California shores, riven in the eternal conflict of land and water, and the rending of which made the bay of San Francisco the mightiest harbor of America. Before our bows lay the immense expanse of the mysterious Pacific.
The second officer was directing sailors who were snugging down the decks.
"What did the queer fellow want to go to Tahiti for?" I asked him.
He regarded me a moment in the stolid way of seamen.
"The blighter likes to live on bananas and breadfruit and that kind of truck," he replied. "The French won't let 'im st'y there. 'E's too bloomin' nyked. 'E's a nyture man. They chysed 'im out, and every steamer 'e tries to stow 'imself aw'y. 'E's a bleedin' trial to these ships."
That was puzzling. Did not these natives of Tahiti themselves wear little clothing? Who were they to object to a white man doffing the superfluities of dress in a climate where breadfruit and bananas grow? Or the French, the governors of Tahiti? Were they, in that isle so distant from Paris, their capital, practising a puritanism unknown at home? Was nature so fearful? The figure of the barefooted man often arose as I watched the Farallones disappear, the last of land we would see until we arrived at Tahiti, nearly two weeks later.
The days fell away from the calendar; they obliterated themselves as quietly as our ship's wake to the north, as we planed over the smooth waters toward the equator. Gradually the passengers took on character, and out of the first welter of contacts came those definite impressions which are almost always right and which, though we modify them or reverse them by acquaintance, we return to finally.
There was a Chinese, the strangest figure of an Asiatic, with a thin mustache, and wearing always a black frock-coat and trousers, elastic gaiters, and a stiff, black hat. His face was long and oval and the color of old ivory. He had tried to gain admission to Australia and New Zealand, and then the United States, and had been excluded under some harsh laws. He was plainly a scholar, but had brought with him from China a store of curios, probably to enable him to earn money in the land of the white. Australia had refused him; he had been shut out of San Francisco, and the very steamship that brought him was compelled to take him away. He had failed to bring a necessary certificate, or something of the sort, and the inexorable laws of three Christian countries had sent him wandering, so that it was inevitable he must return to China by the route he had come. He was the most mournful of sights, sitting most of the day in a retired spot, brooding, apparently over his fate. He never smiled, though I who have been much in China, tried to stir him from his sadness by exclamations and gestures. His race has a very keen sense of humor. They see a thousand funny things about them, and laugh inwardly; but they never see anything amusing in themselves. The individual man conceives himself a dignified figure in a world of burlesque.
This man's face was rid of any self-pity. I think he was stunned by the horror of the thing, that he, a man of Chinese letters, who had departed from the centuried custom of his pundit caste of remaining in their own country, who had left his family or clan to increase his store of lesser knowledge, should be denied the door by these inferior nations of the West. He might have recalled Chien Lung, a Manchu emperor, who, when apologized to in writing by a Dutch governor of Batavia who had murdered almost all the Chinese there, replied that China had no interest in wretches who had left their native land. A thousand years ago the Chinese put the soldier lowest in the scale and the scholar highest, with the man of business as of no importance. And yet these commercial peoples barred their gates to him! For a number of days he took his place in the shade of a davited boat, and now and again he read from a quaint book the Analects of Confucius.
We sailed on Wednesday, and on Sunday made the first tropic, nearly twenty-three and a half degrees above the line. No rough weather or unkindly wind had disturbed us from the hour we had left the "too nyked" man upon the wharf, and Sunday, when I went to take my bath before breakfast, I felt the soft fingers of the South caress my body, and looking out upon the purple ocean, whose expanse was barely dimpled by gleams of silver, I saw flying-fish skimming the crests of the swinging waves. The officers and stewards appeared in white; the passengers, too, put off their temperate-zone clothes, and the decks were gay with color. We all seemed to feel that we must be in consonance with the loving nature that had made the sky so blue and the sea so still.
The Chinese—he was Leung Kai Chu on the list—did not change his melancholy black. The deck sports were organized, ship tennis, quoits, and golf, and the disks rattled about his feet; but though he often moved his chair to aid those seeking a lost quoit or ring, and bowed ceremoniously to those who begged his pardon for bothering him, he kept his position. I felt a somber sense of gathering tragedy. In his face was a growing detachment from everything about him; he hardly knew that we were there, that he ate and slept, and took his seat by the boat. All of us felt this, but with many it meant merely remarking that "the Chink is getting off his head," and a wish that he would not obtrude his grief when we were filled with the joy of sunny skies and a merry company.
The tragedy came sooner than expected by me. I had cast a thought to my understanding that the philosophy of Confucius did not contemplate self-destruction, and had been divided between relief and wonder that it was so.
It was dusk of Monday. The sun had sunk behind the glowing rim of the western horizon, and the air was suffused with a trembling rose color, when Leung Kai Chu tapped at my cabin-door, which gave on the boat-deck. I opened it, and he bowed, and handed me an image. It was of porcelain, precious, and I was at a loss to know whether he had felt the need of a little money and had brought it to sell, or had been impelled to give it to me because of my feeble efforts to cheer him. I made a gesture which might have meant payment, but he raised his hand deprecatingly, and for the first time I saw him smile, and I was afraid. He bowed, and in the mandarin language invoked good fortune upon me. He had the aspect of one beyond good and evil, who had settled life's problem. When he left me I stood wondering, holding in my hands the majestic god seated upon the tiger, the symbol of the conquest of the flesh.
I heard a shout, and dropping the image, I rushed aft. Leung Kai Chu had thrown himself over the rail just by the purser's office. A steward had seen him fling himself into the white foam. I tore a gas-buoy from its rack and tossed it toward the screw, in which direction he must have been swept. A sailor ran to the bridge, the whistle blew, and the ship shook as the engines ceased revolving, and then reversed in stopping her. Orders were flung about fast. A man climbed to the lookout as the first officer began to put a boat into the water. The crew of it and the second officer were already at the oars and the tiller as the ropes slid in the blocks. The passengers came crowding from their cabins, where they were dressing for dinner, and there were many expressions of surprise and slight terror. Death aboard ship is terrible in its imminence to all. The buoy, with its flaming torch, had drifted far to leeward, and the lookout could do no more than follow its fainting light as the dark of the tropics closed in. An hour the Noa-Noa lay gently heaving upon the mysterious waters in which the despairing pundit had sought Nirvana, until the boat returned with a report that it had picked up the buoy, but had seen no sign of the man. Doubtless he had been swept into the propellers, but if not quickly given release in their cyclopean strokes, he may have watched for a few minutes our vain attempt to negative his fate. If so, I imagine he smiled again, as when he gave me the god upon the tiger.
As they hoisted the boat to its davits, I found in the lantern light his ancient volume, the "Analects of Confucius," and claimed it for my own. It was the very boat he had been accustomed to sit under, and he must have laid down the ancient philosopher to procure the gift for me, his grim determination already made. I had caught a glimpse of him Sunday morning listening to the Christian services conducted by the captain in the social hall, and when I told the brooding captain that, he was struck by the idea that perhaps some word of his preachment might have come to Leung Kai Chu's mind in his agony in the waters, and that at the last moment he might have repented and been saved.
"One aspiration, and he might be washed as white as snow. 'This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise,'" said the commander, who was known as the parson skipper, dour, but ever on the watch for the first sign of repentance.
On the other hand, Hallman more nearly stated the general feeling:
"By God, he spoiled sport, that black ghost on deck. He was like a tupapau, a Polynesian demon."
Hallman was in his early forties, with twenty years of South-Seas trading, a tall, strong, well-featured, but hard-faced, European, with thin lips over nearly perfect teeth, and cold, small, pale-blue eyes. He talked little to men, but isolated young women whenever possible, and bent over them in attempted gay, but earnest, converse. He was one of those cold sensualists whose passion is as that of some animals, insistent, prowling, fierce, but impersonal. An English South-Sea trader aboard gave me an astonishing light upon him:
"Some dozen years ago," he said, "I made a visit of a few weeks to the Marquesas Islands. Hallman had kept a store there then for more than ten years, and had a good part of the business of buying and shipping copra and selling supplies to the natives and a few whites. He lived in a shack back of his little store, with his native woman and four or five half-naked children. They told me queer stories about his madness for women. They said he would go out of his house and into the jungle near the trails and would lie in wait. If a woman he coveted passed, he would seize her, and even if her husband or consort was ahead of her, in the custom of these people, he would grab her feet, and make her call out that she was delaying a minute, that her companion was to go along, and she would catch up in a minute. He had some funny power over those women. Anyhow, that's the story they told me in those cannibal islands. And yet, you know, there's something different in him, because he sent two of his sons to school, and afterward to a university in Europe. To make it queerer yet, one of them is here on this ship, in the second class, and wouldn't dare to speak to his father without being asked. Of course he's a half-Marquesan—the son—and looks it. I know them all, and only yesterday I heard Hallman call his son on the main-deck, away from where any one could see him, and threaten him with 'putting him back in the jungle, where he came from,' if he appeared again near the first-class space. I tell you, I'd hate to be in his hands if I was in his way."
Fictionists who take the South Seas for their scenery too often paint their characters in one tone—black, brown, or yellow, or even white. Their bad men are super-villains, and yet there are no men all bad. I know there are no supermen at all, bad or good, but only that some men do super acts now and then; none has the grand gesture at all times. Napoleon had a disgraceful affliction at Waterloo, which rid him of strength, mental and physical; the thief on the cross became wistful for an unknown delight.
Hallman had said to me in the smoking-room that he never drank alcohol or smoked tobacco, because "it took the edge off the game." Now, a poet might say that, or even a moralist, but he was neither.
That night I walked through the waist of the ship and on to the promenade-deck of the third-class passengers, where a huddle of stores, coiled ropes, and riff-raff prevented these poor from taking any pleasurable exercise. I stood at the taffrail and peered down at the welter of white water, the foam of the buffets of the whirling screws, and then at the wide wake, which in imagination went on and on in a luminous path to the place we had departed from, to the dock where we had left the debarred lover of nature. The deep was lit with the play of phosphorescent animalculae whom our passage awoke in their homes beneath the surface and sent questing with lights for the cause. A sheet of pale, green-gold brilliancy marked the route of the Noa-Noa on the brine, and perhaps far back the corpse of the celestial philosopher floated in radiancy, with his face toward those skies, so brazen to his desires.
A Swiss with a letter of introduction to me presented it when seven days out. It was from the manager of a restaurant in San Francisco, and asked me to guide him in any way I could. The Swiss was middle-aged, and talked only of a raw diet. He was to go to the Marquesas to eat raw food. One would have thought a crude diet to be in itself an end in life. He spoke of it proudly and earnestly, as if cooking one's edibles were a crime or a vile thing. He told me for hours his dictums—no alcohol, no tobacco, no meat, no fish; merely raw fruit, nuts, and vegetables. He was a convinced rebel against any fire for food, making known to any one who would listen that man had erred sadly, thousands of years ago, in bringing fire into his cave for cooking, and that the only cure for civilization's evils was in abolishing the kitchen. He would live in the Marquesas as he said the aborigines do. Alas! I did not tell him they ate only their fish raw.
Ben Fuller, the Australian theatrical manager, frowned on him. Fuller was as round as a barrel, and he also was certain of the remedies for a sick world.
"How you 're goin' a get any bloody fun with no roast beef, no mutton, no puddin', and let alone a drop of ale and a pipe?"
The Swiss smiled beatifically.
"You can get rid of all those desires," he said.
"My Gawd! I don't want to get rid o' them, I don't. I'm bringing up my kiddies right, and I'm a proper family man, but I want my meat and my bread and my puddin'. The world needs proper entertainment; that's what'll cure the troubles."
The Swiss was also ardent in attention to the women aboard, and I wondered if there was a new school of self-denial. The old celibate monks eschewed women, but had Gargantuan appetites, which they satisfied with meat pasties, tubs of ale, and vats of wine.
There were two Tahitians aboard, both females. One was an oldish woman, ugly and waspish. She counted her beads and spoke to me in French of the consolations of the Catholic religion. She had been to America for an operation, but despaired of ever being well, and so was melancholy and devout. I talked to her about Tahiti, that island which the young Darwin wrote, "must forever remain classical to the voyager in the South Seas," and which, since I had read "Rarahu" as a boy, had fascinated me and drawn me to it. She warned me.
"Prenez-garde vous, monsieur!" she said. "There are evils there, but I am ashamed of my people."
The other was about twenty-two years old, slender, kohl-eyed, and black-tressed. She was dressed in the gayest colors of bourgeois fashion in San Francisco, with jade ear-rings and diamond ornaments. Her face was of a lemon-cream hue, with dark shadows under her long-lashed eyes. Her form was singularly svelt, curving, suggestive of the rounded stalk of a young cocoa-palm, her bosom molded in a voluptuous reserve. Her father, a clergyman, had cornered the vanilla-bean market in Tahiti, and she was bringing an automobile and a phonograph to her home, a village in the middle of Tahiti.
One night when a Hawaiian hula was played on the phonograph, she danced alone for us. It was a graceful, insinuating step, with movements of the arms and hands, a rotating of the torso upon the hips, and with a tinge of the savage in it that excited the Swiss, the raw-food advocate. Hallman was also in the social hall, and, after waltzing with her several times, had persuaded her to dance the hula. He clapped his hands loudly and called out:
That is Tahitian for bravo, and I saw a look in Hallman's face that recalled the story by the Englishman of the jungle trail. He was always intent on his pursuit.
Was I hypercritical? There was Leung Kai Chu with the sharks, and the nature man left behind! The one had lost his dream of returning to Tahiti, in which the Chinese might freely have lived, and the other had thrown away life because he could not enter the America that the other wanted so madly to leave. The lack of a piece of paper had killed him. Was it that happiness was a delusion never to be realized? If the pundit had bribed the immigration authorities, as I had known many to do, he might now have been studying the strange religion and ethics which had caused the whites to steal so much of China, to force opium upon it at the cannon's mouth, to kill tens of thousands of yellow men, and to raise to dignities the soldiers and financiers whom he despised, as had Confucius and Buddha. And if that white of the sandals had kept his shirt on in Tahiti, he might be lying under his favorite palm and eating breadfruit and bananas.
People have come to be afraid to say or even to think they are happy for a bare hour. We fear that the very saying of it will rob us of happiness. We have incantations to ward off listening devils—knocking on wood, throwing salt over our left shoulders, and saying "God willing."
What was I to find in Tahiti? Certainly not what Loti had with Rarahu, for that was forty years ago, when the world was young at heart, and romance was a god who might be worshiped with uncensored tongue. But was not romance a spiritual emanation, a state of mind, and not people or scenes? I knew it was, for all over the earth I had pursued it, and found it in the wild flowers of the Sausalito hills in California more than among the gayeties of Paris, the gorges of the Yangtse-Kiang, or in the skull dance of the wild Dyak of Borneo.
The Discovery of Tahiti—Marvelous isles and people—Hailed by a windjammer—Middle of the voyage—Tahiti on the horizon—Ashore in Papeete.
What did Tahiti hold for me? I thought vaguely of its history. The world first knew its existence only about the time that the American colonies were trying to separate themselves from Great Britain. An English naval captain happened on the island, and thought himself the first white man there, though the Spanish claim its discovery. The Englishman called it King George Island, after the noted Tory monarch of his day; but a Frenchman, a captain and poet, the very next spring named it the New Cytherea, esteeming its fascinations like the fabled island of ancient Greek lore. It remained for Captain James Cook, who, before steam had killed the wonder of distance and the telegraph made daily bread of adventure and discovery, was the hero of many a fireside tale, to bring Tahiti vividly before the mind of the English world. That hardy mariner's entrancing diary fixed Tahiti firmly in the thoughts of the British and Americans. Bougainville painted such an ecstatic picture that all France would emigrate. Cook set down that Otaheite was the most beautiful of all spots on the surface of the globe. He praised the people as the handsomest and most lovable of humans, and said they wept when he sailed. That was to him of inestimable value in appraising them.
About the beginning of the nineteenth century the first English missionaries in the South Seas thanked God for a safe passage from their homes to Tahiti, and for a virgin soil and an affrightingly wicked people to labor with. The English, however, did not seize the island, but left it for the French to do that, who first declared it a protectorate, and made it a colony of France, in the unjust way of the mighty, before the last king died. They had come ten thousand miles to do a wretched act that never profited them, but had killed a people.
All this discovery and suzerainty did not interest me much, but what the great captains, and Loti, Melville, Becke, and Stoddard, had written had been for years my intense delight. Now I was to realize the dream of childhood. I could hardly live during the days of the voyage.
I remembered that Europe had been set afire emotionally by the first reports, the logs of the first captains of England and France who visited Tahiti. In that eighteenth century, for decades the return to nature had been the rallying cry of those who attacked the artificial and degraded state of society. The published and oral statements of the adventurers in Tahiti, their descriptions of the unrivaled beauty of the verdure, of reefs and palm, of the majestic stature of the men and the passionate charm of the women, the boundless health and simple happiness in which they dwelt, the climate, the limpid streams, the diving, swimming, games, and rarest food—all these had stirred the depressed Europe of the last days of the eighteenth and the first of the nineteenth centuries beyond the understanding by us cynical and more material people. The world still had its vision of perfection.
Tahiti was the living Utopia of More, the belle ile of Rousseau, the Eden with no serpent or hurtful apple, the garden of the Hesperides, in harmony with nature, in freedom from the galling bonds of government and church, of convention and clothing. The reports of the English missionaries of the nakedness and ungodliness of the Tahitians created intense interest and swelled the chorus of applause for their utter difference from the weary Europeans. Had there been ships to take them, thousands would have fled to Tahiti to be relieved of the chains and tedium of their existence, though they could not know that Victorianism and machines were to fetter and vulgarize them even more.
Afterward, when sailors mutinied and abandoned their ships or killed their officers to be able to remain in Tahiti and its sister islands, there grew up in England a literature of wanderers, runagates, and beach-combers, of darkish women who knew no reserve or modesty, of treasure-trove, of wrecks and desperate deeds, piracy and blackbirding, which made flame the imagination of the youth of seventy years ago. Tahiti had ever been pictured as a refuge from a world of suffering, from cold, hunger, and the necessity of labor, and most of all from the morals of pseudo-Christianity, and the hypocrisies and buffets attending their constant secret infringement.
One morning when we were near the middle of our voyage I went on deck to see the sun rise. We were that day eighteen hundred miles from Tahiti and the same distance from San Francisco, while north and west twelve hundred miles lay Hawaii. Not nearer than there, four hundred leagues away, was succor if our vessel failed. It was the dead center of the sea. I glanced at the chart and noted the spot: Latitude 10 N.; Longitude 137 W. The great god Ra of the Polynesians had climbed above the dizzy edge of the whirling earth, and was making his gorgeous course into the higher heavens. The ocean was a glittering blue, an intense, brilliant azure, level save for the slight swaying of the surface, which every little space showed a flag of white. The evaporation caused by the blazing sun of these tropics made the water a deeper blue than in cooler latitudes, as in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans the greens are almost as vivid as the blues about the line.
I watched the thousand flying-fishes' fast leaps through the air, and caught gleams of the swift bonitos whose pursuit made birds of their little brothers. Then, a few miles off, I saw the first vessel that had come to our eyes since we had sunk the headlands of California more than a week before. She was a great sailing ship, under a cloud of snowy canvas, one of the caste of clippers that fast fades under the pall of smoke, and, from her route, bound for the Pacific Coast from Australia. The captain of the Noa-Noa came and stood beside me as we made her out more plainly, and fetching the glasses, he glanced at her, started, and said in some surprise:
"She 's signaling us she wants to send a boat to us. That's the first time in thirty years in this line I have ever had such a request from a wind-jammer. She left her slant to cross our path."
Half a mile away a beautiful, living creature, all quivering with the restraint, she came up into the eye of the wind, and backed her fore-yard. A boat put off from her, and we awaited it with indefinable alarm. It was soon at the gangway we had hastily lowered, unknowing whether woman or child might not be our visitor. It was a young Russian sailor whose hand had been crushed under a block a fortnight before, and who, without aid for his injury other than the simple remedies that make up the pharmacopoeia of sailing vessels, was like to die from blood-poisoning. Had our ship not been met, he would undoubtedly have perished, for no other steamer came to these points upon the chart, and, as we were to learn, his own ship did not reach her port for many weeks. He was a mere boy, his face was drawn with continued pain, but, with the strong repression of emotion characteristic of the sailor, he uttered no sound. The passengers, relieved from silent fears of any catastrophe aboard the sailing ship, and perhaps salving their souls for fancied failure toward the drowned Leung Kai Chu, crowded to fill the boat with books, fruit, and candy, and to help the unfortunate boy. When he had been made comfortable by the surgeon, he was overwhelmed with presents.
My vis-a-vis at table, Herr Gluck, a piano manufacturer of Munich, was a follower of Horace Fletcher, the American munching missionary. Unlike the Swiss, who craved raw food, Herr Gluck ate everything, but each mouthful only after thorough maceration, salivation, and slow deglutition. At breakfast he absorbed a glass of milk and a piece of toast, but took longer than I did to bolt melon, bacon and eggs, toast, coffee, and marmalade. He sold the pianos his family had made for a hundred years, and munched all about the world. He professed rugged health, and never tired of dancing; but he looked drawn and melancholy, and had naught of the rugged masculinity of the bolters. Once or twice he drank in my company a cocktail, and he munched each sip as if it were mutton. He would occupy the entire dinner-time with one baked potato. I was endeared to him because I had known his master, Fletcher, and with him, too, had chewed a glass of wine in the patio of the Army and Navy Club in Manila. I longed to pit the Swiss and Herr Gluck in argument, but in sober thought had to give the laurel to the latter, because, in case of stress, one might, with his system, live on a trifle, while raw, nourishing food might be difficult to get in quantity.
Most of the passengers were Australians and New-Zealanders returning home, and only a few were bound for Tahiti—the Tahitian women, the Swiss, Hallman and his son, and M. Leboucher, a young merchant, born there, of a Spanish mother. William McBirney of County Antrim, but long in Raratonga, an island two days' steaming from Tahiti, was going back to his adopted home.
"Sure," he said, "I'm never happy away from the sound of the surf on the reef and the swish of the cocoanuts. I was fourteen years in the British army in England when I made up my mind to quit civilization. I put it to the missus, a London woman, and she was for it. I've had nearly ten years now in the Cook group. D'ye know, I've learned one thing—that money means very little in life. Why, in Aitutaki you can't sell fish. The law forbids it, but do you suppose people don't fish on that account? Why, a man goes out in his canoe and fishes like mad. He brings in his canoe, and as he approaches the beach he's blowing his pu, the conch-shell, to let people know he has fish. Fish to sell or to barter? Not at all. He wants the honor of giving them away. Now, if he makes a big catch, do you see, he has renown. People say, 'There's Taiere, who caught all those fish yesterday.' That's worth more to him than money. But if he could sell those fish, if there was competition, only the small-minded, the business souls, would fish. I'm not a socialist, but Aitutaki shows that, released from the gain, man will serve his fellows for their plaudits. And, mind you, no person took more fish than he needed. There was no greed."
"That's rot!" broke in Hallman, who entered the smoking-room. "The natives are frauds. You've got to kick 'em around or bribe 'em to do any work. Haven't I lived with 'em twenty years? They're swine."
"It depends on what you bring them and what you seek," said McBirney. "Ah, well, it's getting too civilized in Raratonga. There's an automobile threatening to come there, though you could drive around the island in half an hour. And they're teaching the Maoris English. I must get away to the west'ard soon. It's a fact there are two laws for every inhabitant."
Would I, too, "go native"? Become enamored of those simple, primitive places and ways, and want to keep going westward? Would I, too, fish to be honored for my string? Would I go to the Dangerous Archipelago, those mystic atolls that sent to the Empress Eugenie that magnificent necklace of pearls she wore at the great ball at the Tuileries when the foolish Napoleon made up his mind to emulate his great namesake and make war? Would I there see those divers who are said to surpass all the mermen of legend in the depths they go in their coral-studded lagoons in search of the jewels that hide in gold-lipped shells? Was it for me to wander among those fabulous coral isles flung for a thousand miles upon the sapphire sea, like wreaths of lilies upon a magic lake?
The doldrums brought rain before the southeast wind came to urge us faster on our course and to clear the skies. Now we were in the deep tropics, five or six hundred miles farther south than Honolulu, and plunging toward the imaginary circle which is the magic ring of the men who steer ships in all oceans. Our breeze was that they pray for when the wind alone must drive the towering trees of canvas toward Australia from America.
The breeze held on while games of the formal tournaments progressed, and prizes were won by the young and the spry.
One night I came on deck when the moon had risen an hour, and saw as strange and beautiful a sight as ever made me sigh for the lack of numbers in my soul. A huge, long, black cloud hung pendent from midway in the sky, with its lower part resting on the sea. It was for all the world of marvels like a great dragon, shaped rudely to a semblance of the beast of the Apocalypse, and with its head lifted into the ether, so that it was framed against the heavens. The moon was in its mouth; the moon shaped like an eye, a brilliant, glowing, wondrous orb, more intensely golden for its contrast with the ominous blackness of the serpentine cloud. I felt that I had found the origin of the Oriental fable. Some minutes the illusion held, and then the cloud lowered, and the moon, alone against a pale-blue background, the horizon a mass of scudding draperies of pearly hue, lit the ocean between the ship and the edge of the world in a tremulous and mellow gilded path.
There was dancing on the boat-deck, the Lydian measures of the Hawaiian love-songs, those passionate melodies in which Polynesian pearls have been strung on European filaments, filling the balmy air with quivering notes of desire, and causing dancers to hold closer their partners. The Occident seemed very far away; even older people felt the charm of clime that had come upon them, and laughter rang as stories ran about the group in the reclining-chairs.
The captain, though grim from a gripping religion that had squeezed all joy from his scripture-haunted soul, added an anecdote to the entertainment.
"Passing from Fiji to Samoa," he said, "I had to leave the mail at Niuafou, in the Tongan Islands. It is a tiny isle, three miles long by as wide, an old crater in which is a lagoon, hot springs, and every sign of the devastation of many eruptions. The mail for Niuafou was often only a single letter and a few newspapers. We sealed them in a tin can, and when we met the postmaster at sea, we threw it over. He would be three miles out, swimming, with a small log under arm for support, and often he might be in company with thirty or forty of his tribe, who, with only the same slight aids to keeping afloat, would be fishing leisurely. They carried their tackle and their catch upon their shoulders, and appeared quite at ease, with no concern for their long swim to shore or for the sharks, which were plentiful. They might even nap a little during the middle afternoon."
"When our people wanted to sleep at sea," said McBirney, "if there were two of them, though we never bothered to take along logs, one rested on the other's shoulder."
One listened and marveled, and smiled to think that, had one stayed at home, one might never know these things. Forgotten was the wraith of Leung Kai Chu, the jungle trail of Hallman, and even the trepidation with which we had awaited the sailing ship's boat. I was soon to be in those enchanted archipelagoes, and to see for myself those mighty swimmers and those sleepers upon the sea. I might even get a letter through that floating postmaster.
There was a Continental duchess aboard, whom I pitied. She was oldish and homely, and couldn't forget her rank. She had a woman companion, an honorable lady, a maid, and a courier, but she sat all day knitting or reading poor novels. She had nothing to do with the other passengers, eating with her companion at an aloof table, and sitting before her own cabin, apart from others. The courier and I talked several times, and once he said that her Highness was much interested in a statement I had made about the origin of the Maori race, but she did not invite me to tell her my opinion directly. Poor wretch! as Pepys used to say, she was entangled in her own regal web, and sterilized by her Continental caste.
For days and nights we moved through the calm sea, with hardly more than the sparkling crests of the myriad swelling waves to distinguish from a bounded lake these mighty waters that wash the newest and oldest of lands. It seemed as if all the world was only water and us. The ship was as steady in her element as a plane in those upper strata of the ether where the winds and clouds no longer have domain. The company in a week had found themselves, and divided into groups in which each sought protection from boredom, ease of familiar manners, and opportunity to talk or to listen.
Often when all had left the deck I sat alone in the passage before the surgeon's cabin to drink in the coolness of the dark, and to wonder at the problem of life. If a man had not his dream, what could life give him? In his heart he might know by experience that it never could come true, but without it, false as it might be, he was without consolation.
One night, the equator behind, I saw the Southern Cross for the first time on the voyage, its glittering crux, with the alpha and beta Centaur stars, signaling to me that I was beyond the dispensation of the cold and constant north star, and in the realm of warmth and everchanging beauty.
Tahiti, the second Sunday out, was a day off. I arose Monday with a feeling of buoyancy and expectancy that grew with the morning. I was as one who looks to find soon in reality the ideal on earth his fancy has created. The day became older, and the noontide passed. I had gone forward upon the forecastle head to seize the first sign of land, and was leaning over the cathead, watching the flying-fish leaping in advance of the bow, and the great, shining albacore throwing themselves into the rush of our advance, to be carried along by the mere drive of our bows.
I drew a deep breath of the salt air when there came to me a new and delicious odor. It seemed to steal from a secret garden under the sea, and I thought of mermaids plucking the blossoms of their coral arbors for the perfuming and adornment of their golden hair. But sweeter and heavier it floated upon the slight breeze, and I knew it for the famed zephyr that carries to the voyager to Tahiti the scents of the flowers of that idyllic land. It was the life vapor of the hinano, the tiare and the frangipani exhaled by those flowers of Tahiti, to be wafted to the sailor before he sights the scene itself, the breath of Lorelei that spelled the sense of the voyager. No shipwrecked mariner could have felt more poignancy in his search for a hospitable strand than I on the plunging prow of the Noa-Noa in my quest through the bright sunshine of that afternoon for the haven of desire. I strained my eyes to see it, to realize the gossamer dream I had spun since boyhood from the leaves of beloved poets.
It was shortly after three o'clock that the vision came in reality, more marvelous, more exquisite, more unimaginable than the conception of all my reveries—a dim shadow in the far offing, a dark speck in the lofty clouds, a mass of towering green upon the blue water, the fast unfoldment of emerald, pale hills and glittering reef. Nearer as sailed our ship, the panorama was lovelier. It was the culmination of enchantment, the fulfilment of the wildest fantasy of wondrous color, strange form, and lavish adornment.
The island rose in changing shape from the soft Pacific sea, here sheer and challenging, there sloping gently from mountain height to ocean sheen; different all about, altering with hiding sun or shifting view its magic mold, with moods as varied as the wind, but ever lovely, alluring, new.
I marked the volcanic make of it, cast up from the low bed of Neptune an eon ago, its loftiest peaks peering from the long cloud-streamers a mile and a half above my eyes, and its valleys embracing caverns of shadow. It was a stupendous precipice suspended from the vault of heaven, and in its massive folds secreted the wonders I had come so far to see. Every minute the bewildering contours were transmuted by the play of sun and cloud and our swift progression toward the land.
Red spots appeared rare against the field of verdure where the mountain-side had been stripped naked by erosion, and the volcanic cinnabar of ages contrasted oddly with the many greens of frond and palm and hillside grove. Curious, fantastic, the hanging peaks and cloud-capped scarps, black against the fleecy drift, were tauntingly reminiscent of the evening skies of the last few days, as if the divine artist had sketched lightly upon the azure of the heavens the entrancing picture to be drawn firmly and grandly in beetling crag and sublime steep.
Most of all, as the island swam closer, the embracing fringe of cocoanut-trees drew my eyes. They were like a girdle upon the beautiful body of the land, whose lower half was in the ocean. They seemed the freewaving banners of romance, whispering always of nude peoples, of savage whites, of ruthless passion, of rum and missionaries, cannibals and heathen altars, of the fierce struggle of the artificial and the primitive. I loved these palms, brothers of my soul, and for me they have never lost their romantic significance.
From the sea, the village of Papeete, the capital and port, was all but hidden in the wood of many kinds of trees that lies between the beach and the hills. Red and gray roofs appeared among the mass of growing things at almost the same height, for the capital rested on only a narrow shelf of rising land, and the mountains descended from the sky to the very water's-edge. Greener than the Barbadoes, like malachite upon the dazzling Spanish Main, Tahiti gleamed as a promise of Elysium.
A lighthouse, tall minister of warning, lifted upon a headland, and suddenly there was disclosed intimately the brilliant, shimmering surf breaking on the tortuous coral reef that banded the island a mile away. It was like a circlet of quicksilver in the sun, a quivering, shining, waving wreath. Soon we heard the eternal diapason of these shores, the constant and immortal music of the breakers on the white stone barrier, a low, deep, resonant note that lulls the soul to sleep by day as it does the body by night.
Guardian sound of the South Seas it is, the hushed, echoic roar of a Jovian organ that chants of the dangers of the sea without, and the peace of the lagoon within, the reef.
A stretch of houses showed—the warehouses and shops of the merchants along the beach, the spire of a church, a line of wharf, a hundred tiny homes all but hidden in the foliage of the ferns. These gradually came into view as the ship, after skirting along the reef, steered through a break in the foam, a pass in the treacherous coral, and glided through opalescent and glassy shallows to a quay where all Papeete waited to greet us.
The quay was filled with women and men and children and dogs. Carriages and automobiles by the score attended just outside. Conspicuous above all were the Tahitian and part-Tahitian girls. In their long, graceful, waistless tunics of brilliant hues, their woven bamboo or pandanus hats, decorated with fresh flowers, their feet bare or thrust into French slippers, their brown eyes shining with yearning, they were so many Circes to us from the sea. They smiled and looked with longing at these strangers, who felt curious thrills at this unknown openness of promise.
Louis de Bougainville wrote in his diary at his first coming to Tahiti a hundred and fifty years ago:
The boats were now crowded with women, whose beauty of face was equal to that of the ladies of Europe, and the symmetry of their forms much superior.
Leboucher called to his mother. "Madre mia! Como estas tu?"
Cries rang out in French, in Tahitian and in English. Islanders, returning, demanded information as to health, business ventures, happenings. Merry laughter echoed from the roof of the great shed, and I felt my heart suddenly become joyous.
The girls and women absorbed the attention of passengers not of Tahiti. The New-Zealanders of the crew called excitedly to various ones. Most of the men passengers, tarrying only with the vessel, planned to see a hula, and they wondered if any of those on the wharf were the dancers.
A white flower over the ear seemed a favorite adornment, some wearing it on one side and some on the other. What struck one immediately was the erect carriage of the women. They were tall and as straight as sunflower-stalks, walking with a swimming gait. They were graceful even when old. Those dark women and men seemed to fit in perfectly with the marvelous background of the cocoas, the bananas and the brilliant foliage. The whites appeared sickly, uncouth, beside the natives, and the white women, especially, faded and artificial.
The Noa-Noa was warped to the wharf, and I was within a few feet now of the welcoming crowd and could discern every detail.
Those young women were well called les belles Tahitiennes. Their skins were like pale-brown satin, but exceeding all their other charms were their lustrous eyes. They were very large, liquid, melting, and indescribably feminine—feminine in a way lost to Occidental women save only the Andalusians and the Neapolitans. They were framed in the longest, blackest, curly lashes, the lashes of dark Caucasian children. They were the eyes of children of the sun, eyes that had stirred disciplined seamen to desertion, eyes that had burned ships, and created the mystery of the Bounty, eyes of enchantresses of the days of Helen.
"Prenez-garde vous!" said Madame Aubert, the invalid, in my ear.
Mixed now with the perfumes of the flowers was the odor of cocoanuts, coming from the piles of copra on the dock, a sweetish, oily smell, rich, powerful, and never in foreign lands to be inhaled without its bringing vividly before one scenes of the tropics.
The gangway was let down. I was, after years of anticipation, in Tahiti.
Description of Tahiti—A volcanic rock and coral reef—Beauty of the Scenery—Papeete the center of the South Seas—Appearance of the Tahitians.
Tahiti was a molten rock, fused in a subterranean furnace, and cast in some frightful throe of the cooling sphere, high up above the surface of the sea, the seething mass forming into mountains and valleys, the valleys hemmed in except at their mouths by lofty barriers that stretch from thundering central ridges to the slanting shelf of alluvial soil which extends to the sand of the beach. It is a mass of volcanic matter to which the air, the rain, and the passage of a million years have given an all-covering verdure except upon the loftiest peaks, have cut into strangely shaped cliffs, sloping hills, spacious vales, and shadowy glens and dingles, and have poured down the rich detritus and humus to cover the coral beaches and afford sustenance for man and beast. About the island countless trillions of tiny animals have reared the shimmering reef which bears the brunt of the breaking seas, and spares their impact upon the precious land. These minute beings in the unfathomable scheme of the Will had worked and perished for unguessed ages to leave behind this monument of their existence, their charnel-house. Man had often told himself that a god had inspired them thus to build havens for his vessels and abodes of marine life where man might kill lesser beings for his food and sport.
Always, in the approach to the island in steamship, schooner, or canoe, one is amazed and transported by the varying aspect of it. A few miles away one would never know that man had touched it. His inappreciable structures are erased by the flood of green color, which, from the edge of the lagoon to the spires of La Diademe, nearly eight thousand feet above the water, makes all other hues insignificant. In all its hundred miles or so of circumference nature is the dominant note—a nature so mysterious, so powerful, and yet so soft-handed, so beauty-loving and so laughing in its indulgences, that one can hardly believe it the same that rules the Northern climes and forces man to labor in pain all his days or to die.
The scene from a little distance is as primeval as when the first humans climbed in their frail canoes through the unknown and terrible stretches of ocean, and saw Tahiti shining in the sunlight. A mile or two from the lagoon the fertile land extends as a slowly-ascending gamut of greens as luxuriant as a jungle, and forming a most pleasing foreground to the startling amphitheater of the mountains, darker, and, in storm, black and forbidding.
Those mountains are the most wonderful examples of volcanic rock on the globe. Formed of rough and crystalline products of the basic fire of earth, they hold high up in their recesses coral beds once under the sea, and lava in many shapes, tokens of the island's rise from the slime, and of mammoth craters now almost entirely obliterated by denudation—the denudation which made the level land as fertile as any on earth, and the suitable habitation of the most leisurely and magnificent human animals of history.
A thousand rills that drink from the clouds ever encircling the crags, and in which they are often lost from view, leap from the heights, appearing as ribbons of white on a clear day, and not seldom disappearing in vapor as they fall sheer hundreds of feet, or thousands, in successive drops. When heavy rains come, torrents suddenly spring into being and dash madly down the precipitous cliffs to swell the brooks and little rivers and rush headlong to the sea.
Tahiti has an unexcelled climate for the tropics, the temperature for the year averaging seventy-seven degrees and varying from sixty-nine to eighty-four degrees. June, July, and August are the coolest and driest months, and December to March the rainiest and hottest. It is often humid, enervating, but the south-east, the trade-wind, which blows regularly on the east side of the islands, where are Papeete and most of the settlements, purifies the atmosphere, and there are no epidemics except when disease is brought directly from the cities of America or Australasia. A delicious breeze comes up every morning at nine o'clock and fans the dweller in this real Arcadia until past four, when it languishes and ceases in preparation for the vesper drama of the sun's retirement from the stage of earth.
Typhoons or cyclones are rare about Tahiti, but squalls are frequent and tidal waves recurrent. The rain falls more than a hundred days a year, but usually so lightly that one thinks of it as liquid sunshine. In the wet quarter from December until March there are almost daily deluges, when the air seems turned to water, the land and sea are hidden by the screen of driving rain, and the thunder shakes the flimsy houses, and echoes menacingly in the upper valleys.
Papeete, the seat of government and trade capital of all the French possessions in these parts of the world, is a sprawling village stretching lazily from the river of Fautaua on the east to the cemetery on the west, and from the sea on the north to half a mile inland. It is the gradual increment of garden and house upon an aboriginal village, the slow response of a century to the demand of official and trading white, of religious group and ambitious Tahitian, of sailor and tourist. Here flow all the channels of business and finance, of plotting and robbery, of pleasure and profit, of literature and art and good living, in the eastern Pacific. Papeete is the London and Paris of this part of the peaceful ocean, dispensing the styles and comforts, the inventions and luxuries, of civilization, making the laws and enforcing or compromising them, giving justice and injustice to litigants, despatching all the concomitants of modernity to littler islands. Papeete is the entrepot of all the archipelagoes in these seas.
The French, who have domination in these waters of a hundred islands and atolls between 8 and 27 south latitude, and between 137 and 154 west longitude, a stretch of about twelve hundred miles each way, make them all tributary to Papeete; and thus it is the metropolis of a province of salt water, over which come its couriers and its freighters, its governors and its soldiers, its pleasure-seekers and its idlers. From it an age ago went the Maoris to people Hawaii and New Zealand.
Papeete has a central position in the Pacific. The capitals of Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and California are from two and a half to three and a half thousand miles away. No other such group of whites, or place approaching its urbanity, is to be found in a vast extent of latitude or longitude. It is without peer or competitor in endless leagues of waves.
Yet Papeete is a little place, a mile or so in length and less in width, a curious imposition of European houses and manners upon a Tahitian hamlet, hybrid, a mixture of loveliness and ugliness, of nature savage and tamed. The settlement, as with all ports, began at the waterfront, and the harbor of Papeete is a lake within the milky reef, the gentle waters of which touch a strip of green that runs along the shore, broken here and there by a wall and by the quay at which I landed. Coral blocks have been quarried from the reef and fitted to make an embankment for half a mile, which juts out just far enough to be usable as a mole. It is alongside this that sailing vessels lie, the wharf being the only land mooring with a roof for the housing of products. A dozen schooners, small and large, point their noses out to the sea, their backs against the coral quay, and their hawsers made fast to old cannon, brought here to war against the natives, and now binding the messengers of the nations and of commerce to this shore. Where there are no embankments, the water comes up to the roots of the trees, and a carpet of grass, moss, and tropical vegetation grows from the salt tide to the roadway.
Following the contour of the beach, runs a fairly broad road, and facing this original thoroughfare and the sea are the principal shops of the traders and a few residences. French are some of these merchants, but most are Australasian, German, American and Chinese. France is ten thousand miles away, and the French unequal in the struggle for gain. Some of the stores occupy blocks, and in them one will find a limited assortment of tobacco, anchors, needles, music-boxes, candles, bicycles, rum, novels, and silks or calicos. Here in this spot was the first settlement of the preachers of the gospel, of the conquering forces of France, and of the roaring blades who brought the culture of the world to a powerful and spellbound people. Here swarmed the crews of fifty whalers in the days when "There she blows!" was heard from crows'-nests all over the broad Pacific. These rough adventurers, fighters, revelers, passionate bachelors, stamped Tahiti with its first strong imprint of the white man's modes and vices, contending with the missionaries for supremacy of ideal. They brought gin and a new lecherousness and deadly ills and novel superstitions, and found a people ready for their wares. An old American woman has told me she has seen a thousand whalemen at one time ashore off ships in the harbor make night and day a Saturnalia of Occidental pleasure, a hundred fights in twenty-four hours.
As more of Europe and America came and brought lumber to build houses, or used the hard woods of the mountains, the settlement pushed back from the beach. Trails that later widened into streets were cut through the brush to reach these homes of whites, and the thatched huts of the aborigines were replaced by the ugly, but more convenient, cottages of the new-comers. The French, when once they had seized the island, made roads, gradually and not too well, but far surpassing those of most outlying possessions, and contrasting advantageously with the neglect of the Spanish, who in three hundred years in the Philippines left all undone the most important step in civilization. One can drive almost completely around Tahiti on ninety miles of a highway passable at most times of the year, and bridging a hundred times the streams which rush and purl and wind from the heights to the ocean.
The streets of Papeete have no plan. They go where they list and in curves and angles, and only once in a mile in short, straight stretches. They twist and stray north and south and nor'nor'west and eastsou'east, as if each new-comer had cleft a walk of his own, caring naught for any one else, and further dwellers had smoothed it on for themselves.
I lost myself in a maze of streets, looked about for a familiar landmark, strolled a hundred paces, and found myself somewhere I thought a kilometer distant. Everywhere there are shops kept by Chinese, restaurants and coffee-houses. The streets all have names, but change them as they progress, honoring some French hero or statesman for a block or two, recalling some event, or plainly stating the reason for their being. All names are in French, of course, and many are quaint and sonorous.
As the sea-wall grew according to the demands of defense or commerce the sections were rechristened. The quai des Subsistences tells its purpose as does the quai de l'Uranie. The rue de l'Ecole and the rue de la Mission, with the rue des Remparts, speak the early building of school and Catholic church and fortifications.
Rue Cook, rue de Bougainville and many others record the giant figures of history who took Tahiti from the mist of the half-known, and wrote it on the charts and in the archives. Other streets hark back to that beloved France to which these French exiles gaze with tearful eyes, but linger all their years ten thousand miles away. They saunter along the rue de Rivoli in Papeete, and see again the magnificence of the Tuileries, and hear the dear noises of la belle Paris. They are sentimental, these French, patriots all here, and overcome at times by the flood of memories of la France, their birthplaces, and their ancestral graves. Some born here have never been away, and some have spent a few short months in visits to the homeland. Some have brown mothers, half-islanders; yet if they learn the tripping tongue of their French progenitor and European manners, they think of France as their ultimate goal, of Paris their playground, and the "Marseillaise" their himene par excellence.
One might conjure up a vision of a tiny Paris with such names in one's ears, and these French, who have been in possession here nearly four-score years, have tried to make a French town of Papeete.
They have only spoiled the scene as far as unfit architecture can, but the riot of tropical nature has mocked their labors. For all over the flimsy wooden houses, the wretched palings, the galvanized iron roofing, the ugly verandas, hang gorgeous draperies of the giant acacias, the brilliant flamboyantes, the bountiful, yellow allamanda, the generous breadfruit, and the uplifting glory of the cocoanut-trees, while magnificent vines and creepers cover the tawdry paint of the facades and embower the homes in green and flower. If one leaves the few principal streets or roads in Papeete, one walks only on well-worn trails through the thick growth of lantana, guavas, pandanus, wild coffee, and a dozen other trees and bushes. The paths are lined with hedges of false coffee, where thrifty people live, and again there are open spaces with vistas of little houses in groves, rows of tiny cabins close together. Everywhere are picturesque disorder, dirt, rubbish, and the accrued wallow of years of laissez-aller; but the mighty trade-winds and the constant rains sweep away all bad odors, and there is no resultant disease.
"My word," said Stevens, a London stockbroker, here to rehabilitate a broken corporation, "if we English had this place, wouldn't there be a cleaning up! We'd build it solid and sanitary, and have proper rules to make the bally natives stand around."
The practical British would that. They have done so in a dozen of their far-flung colonies I hare been in, from Singapore to Barbadoes, though they have failed utterly in Jamaica. Yet, I am at first sight, of the mind that only the Spanish would have kept, after decades of administration, as much of the simple beauty of Papeete as have the Gauls. True, the streets are a litter, the Government almost unseen as to modern uplift, the natives are indolent and life moves without bustle or goal. The republic is content to keep the peace, to sell its wares, to teach its tongue, and to let the gentle Tahitian hold to his island ways, now that his race dies rapidly in the spiritual atmosphere so murderous to natural, non-immunized souls and bodies.
Many streets and roads are shaded by spreading mango-trees, a fruit brought in the sixties from Brazil, and perfected in size and flavor here by the patient efforts of French gardeners and priests. The trees along the town ways are splendid, umbrageous masses of dark foliage whose golden crops fall upon the roadways, and which have been so chosen that though they are seasonal, the round mango is succeeded by the golden egg, and that by a small purple sort, while the large, long variety continues most of the year. Monseigneur Jaussen, the Catholic bishop who wrote the accepted grammar and dictionary of the Tahitian language, evolved a delicious, large mango, with a long, thin stone very different from the usual seed, which occupies most of the circumference of this slightly acidulous, most luscious of tropical fruits. Often the pave is a spatter of the fallen mangos, its slippery condition of no import to the barefooted Tahitian, but to the shod a cause of sudden, strange gyrations and gestures, and of irreverence toward the Deity.
Scores of varieties of fruits and flowers, shade-trees, and ornamental plants were brought to Tahiti by ship commanders, missionaries, officials, and traders, in the last hundred years, while many of the indigenous growths have been transplanted to other islands and continents by those whose interests were in them. The Mutiny of the Bounty, perhaps the most romantic incident of these South Seas, was the result of an effort to transport breadfruit-tree shoots from Tahiti to the West Indies. It is a beautiful trait in humankind, which, maybe, designing nature has endowed us with to spread her manifold creations, that even the most selfish of men delight in planting in new environments exotic seeds and plants, and in enriching the fauna of faraway islands with strange animals and insects. The pepper- and the gum-tree that make southern California's desert a bower, the oranges and lemons there which send a million golden trophies to less-favored peoples, are the flora of distant climes. Since the days of the white discoverers, adventurers and priests, fighting men and puritans, have added to the earth's treasury in Tahiti and all these islands.
Walking one morning along the waterfront, I met two very dark negresses. They had on pink and black dresses, with red cotton shawls, and they wore flaming yellow handkerchiefs about their woolly heads. They were as African as the Congo, and as strange in this setting as Eskimos on Broadway. They felt their importance, for they were of the few good cooks of French dishes here. They spoke a French patois, and guffawed loudly when one dropped her basket of supplies from her head. They were servants of the procureur de la Republique, who had brought them from the French colony of Martinique.
Many races have mingled here. One saw their pigments and their lines in the castes; here a soupcon of the French and there a touch of the Dane; the Chileno, himself a mestizo, had left his print in delicacy of feature, and the Irish his freckles and pug, which with tawny skin, pearly teeth, and the superb form of the pure Tahitian, left little to be desired in fetching and saucy allurement. Thousands of sailors and merchants and preachers had sowed their seed here, as did Captain Cook's men a century and a half ago, and the harvest showed in numerous shadings of colors and variety of mixtures. Tahiti had, since ship of Europe sighted Orofena, been a pasture for the wild asses of the Wanderlust, a paradise into which they had brought their snakes and left them to plague the natives.
There were phonographs shrieking at one from a score of verandas. The automobile had become a menace to life and limb. There were two-score motor-cars in Tahiti; but as the island is small, and most of them were in the capital, one met them all the day, and might have thought there were hundreds. Motor-buses, or "rubberneck-wagons," ran about the city, carrying the natives for a franc on a brief tour, and, for more, to country districts where good cheer and dances sped the night. A dozen five- and seven-passenger cars with drivers were for hire. Most nights until eleven or later the rented machines dashed about the narrow streets, hooting and hissing, while their care-free occupants played accordions or mouth-organs and sang songs of love. Louis de Bougainville, once a French lawyer, and afterward soldier, sailor, and discoverer and a lord under Bonaparte, had a monument in a tiny green park hard by the strand and the road that, beginning there, bands the island. He is best known the world about because his name is given to the "four-o'clock" shrub in warm countries, as in Tahiti, which sends huge masses of magenta or crimson blossoms climbing on trellises and roofs. I walked to this monument from the Tiare along the mossy bank of a little rivulet which ran to the beach. It was early morning. The humble natives and whites were about their daily tasks. Smoke rose from the iron pipes above the houses, coffee scented the air, men and women were returning from the market-place with bunches of cocoanuts, bananas, and breadfruit, strings of fish and cuts of meat in papers. Many of them had their heads wreathed in flowers or wore a tiare blossom over an ear.
The way in which one wears a flower supposedly signifies many things. If one wore it over the left ear, one sought a sweetheart; if over the right, it signified contentment, and though it was as common as the wearing of hats, there were always jokes passing about these flowers, exclamations of surprise or wishes of joy.
"What, you have left Terii?"
"Aue! I must change it at once."
Now, really there was no such idea in the native mind. It was invention for tourists. The Tahitian wears flowers anywhere, always, if he can have them, and they do express his mood. If he is sad, he will not put them on; but if going to a dance, to a picnic, or to promenade, if he has money in his pocket, or gaiety in his heart, he must bloom. Over one ear, or both, in the hair, on the head, around the neck, both sexes were passionately fond of this age-old sign of kinship with nature. The lei in Hawaii around the hat or the neck spells the same meaning, but the flood of outsiders has lost Hawaii all but the merest remnant of its ancient ways, while here still persisted customs which a century of European difference and indifference has not crushed out. Here, as there, more lasting wreaths for the hat were woven of shells or beads in various colors.
As I strolled past the houses, every one greeted me pleasantly.
"Ia ora na," they said, or "Bonjour!" I replied in kind. I had not been a day in Tahiti before I felt kindled in me an affection for its dark people which I had never known for any other race. It was an admixture of friendship, admiration, and pity—of affection for their beautiful natures, of appreciation of the magnificence of their physical equipment, and of sympathy for them in their decline and inevitable passing under the changed conditions of environment made by the sudden smothering of their instinctive needs in the sepia of commercial civilization. I saw that those natives remaining, laughing and full of the desire for pleasure as they were, must perish because unfit to survive in the morass of modernism in which they were sinking, victims of a system of life in which material profits were the sole goal and standard of the rulers.
The Tahitians are tall, vigorous, and superbly rounded. The men, often more than six feet or even six and a half feet in height, have a mien of natural majesty and bodily grace. They convey an impression of giant strength, reserve power, and unconscious poise beyond that made by any other race. American Indians I have known had much of this quality when resident far from towns, but they lacked the curving, padded muscles, the ease of movement, and, most of all, the smiling faces, the ingratiating manner, of these children of the sun.
The Tahitians' noses are fairly flat and large; the nostrils dilated; their lips full and sensual; their teeth perfectly shaped and very white and sound; their chins strong, though round; and their eyes black and large, not brilliant, but liquid. Their feet and hands are mighty—hands that lift burdens of great weight, that swing paddles of canoes for hours; feet that tread the roads or mountain trails for league on league.
The women are of middle size, with lines of harmony that give them a unique seal of beauty, with an undulating movement of their bodies, a coordination of every muscle and nerve, a richness of aspect in color and form, that is more sensuous, more attractive, than any feminine graces I have ever gazed on. They have the forwardness of boys, the boldness of huntresses, yet the softness and magnetism of the most virginal of their white sisters. One thinks of them as of old in soft draperies of beautiful cream-colored native cloth wound around their bodies, passed under one arm and knotted on the other shoulder, revealing the shapely neck and arm, and one breast, with garlands upon their hair, and a fragrant flower passed through one ear, and in the other two or three large pearls fastened with braided human hair.
The men never wore beards, though mustaches, copying the French custom, are common on chiefs, preachers, and those who sacrifice beauty and natural desires to ambition. The hair on the face is removed as it appears, and it is scanty. They abhor beards, and their ghosts, the tupapau, have faces fringed with hair. The usual movements of both men and women are slow, dignified, and full of pride.
The Tiare Hotel—Lovaina the hostess, the best-known woman in the South Seas—Her strange menage—The Dummy—A one-sided tryst—An old-fashioned cocktail—The Argentine training ship.
The Tiare Hotel was the center of English-speaking life in Papeete. Almost all tourists stayed there, and most of the white residents other than the French took meals there. The usual traveler spent most of his time in and about the hotel, and from it made his trips to the country districts or to other islands. Except for two small restaurants kept by Europeans, the Tiare was the only eating-place in the capital of Tahiti unless one counted a score of dismal coffee-shops kept by Chinese, and frequented by natives, sailors, and beach-combers. They were dark, disagreeable recesses, with grimy tables and forbidding utensils, in which wretchedly made coffee was served with a roll for a few sous; one of them also offered meats of a questionable kind.
The Tiare Hotel was five minutes' walk from the quay, at the junction of the rue de Rivoli and the rue de Petit Pologne, close by Pont du Remparts. It was a one-storied cottage, with broad verandas, half hidden in a luxuriant garden at the point where two streets come together at a little stone bridge crossing a brook—a tiny bungalow built for a home, and stretched and pieced out to make a guest-house.
I was at home there after a few days as if I had known no other dwelling. That is a distinctive and compelling charm of Tahiti, the quick possession of the new-comer by his environment, and his unconscious yielding to the demands of his novel surroundings, opposite as they might be to his previous habitat.
Very soon I was filled with the languor of these isles. I hardly stirred from my living-place. The bustle of the monthly steamship-day died with the going of the Noa-Noa, the through passengers departing in angry mood because their anticipated hula dance had been a disappointment—wickedness shining feebly through cotton gowns when they had expected nudity in a pas seul of abandonment. There was a violent condemnation by the duped men of "unwarranted interference by the French Government with natural and national expression."
Hogg, an American business traveler, said "The Barbary Coast in Frisco had Tahiti skinned a mile for the real thing," and Stevens, a London broker, that the dance was "bally tame for four bob."
Papeete, with the passing throng gone, was a quiet little town, contrasting with the hours when the streets swarmed with people from here and the suburbs, the band playing, the bars crowded, and all efforts for gaiety and coquetry and the selling of souvenirs and intoxicants. What exotic life there was beyond the clubs, the waterfront, and the Asiatic quarter revolved around the Tiare, and entirely so because of its proprietress, Lovaina. She was the best-known and best-liked woman in all these South Seas, remembered from Australia to the Paumotus, from London to China, wherever were people who had visited Tahiti, as "dear old Lovaina."
She was very large. She was huge in every sense, weighing much more than three hundred pounds, and yet there was a singular grace in her form and her movements. Her limbs were of the girth of breadfruit-trees, and her bosom was as broad and deep as that of the great Juno of Rome, but her hands were beautiful, like a plump baby's, with fascinating creases at the wrists, and long, tapering fingers. Her large eyes were hazel, and they were very brilliant when she was merry or excited. Her expansive face had no lines in it, and her mouth was a perfection of curves, the teeth white and even. Her hair was red-brown, curling in rich profusion, scented with the hinano-flower, adorning her charmingly poised head in careless grace.
When she said, "I glad see you," there was a glow of amiability, an alluring light in her countenance, that drew one irresistibly to her, and her immense, shapely hand enveloped one's own with a pressure and a warmth that were overpowering in their convincement of her good heart and illimitable generosity.
Lovaina was only one fourth Tahitian, all the remainder of her racial inheritance being American; but she was all Tahitian in her traits, her simplicity, her devotion to her friends, her catching folly as it flew, and her pride in a new possession.
One morning I got up at five o'clock and went to the bath beside the kitchen. It was a shower, and the water from the far Fautaua valley the softest, most delicious to the body, cool and balmy in the heat of the tropic. Coming and going to baths here, whites throw off easily the fear of being thought immodest, and women and men alike go to and fro in loin-cloths, pajamas, or towels. I wore the pareu, the red strip of calico, bearing designs by William Morris, which the native buys instead of his original one of tapa, the beaten cloth made from tree bark or pith.
I met Lovaina coming out of the shower, a sheet about her which could not cover half of her immense and regal body. She hesitated—I was almost a stranger,—and in a vain effort to do better, trod on the sheet, and pulled it to her feet. I picked it up for her.
"I shamed for you see me like this!" she said.
I was blushing all over, though why I don't know, but I faltered:
"Like a great American Beauty rose."
"Faded rose too big," exclaimed Lovaina, with the faintest air of coquetry as I hastily shut the door.
A little while later, when I came to the dining-room for the first breakfast, I met Lovaina in a blue-figured aahu of muslin and lace, a close-fitting, sweeping nightgown, the single garment that Tahitians wear all day and take off at night, a tunic, or Mother Hubbard, which reveals their figures without disguise, unstayed, unpetticoated. Lovaina was, as always, barefooted, and she took me into her garden, one of the few cultivated in Tahiti, where nature makes man almost superfluous in the decoration of the earth.
"This house my father give me when marry," said Lovaina. "My God! you just should seen that arearea! Las' all day, mos' night. We jus' move in. Ban's playin' from war-ship, all merry drinkin', dancin'. Never such good time. I tell you nobody could walk barefoot one week, so much broken glass in garden an' street."
Her goodly flesh shook with her laughter, her darkening eyes suffused with happy tears at the memory, and she put her broad hand between my shoulders for a moment as if to draw me into the rejoicing of her wedding feast. She led me about the garden to show me how she had from year to year planted the many trees, herbs, and bushes it contained. It had set out to be formal, but, like most efforts at taming the fierce fecundity of nature in these seas, had become a tangle of verdure, for though now and then combed into some regularity, the breezes, the dogs, the chickens, and the invading people ruffled it, the falling leaves covered the grass, and the dead branches sighed for burial. Down the narrow path she went ponderously, showing me the cannas, jasmine and rose, picking a lime or a tamarind, a bouquet of mock-orange flowers, smoothing the tuberoses, the hibiscus of many colors, the oleanders, maile ilima, Star of Bethlehem, frangipani, and, her greatest love, the tiare Tahiti. There were snakeplants, East-India cherries, coffee-bushes, custard-apples, and the hinano, the sweetness of which and of the tiare made heavy the air.
I said that we had no flower in America as wonderful in perfume as these.
Lovaina stopped her slow, heavy steps. She raised her beautiful, big hand, and arresting my attention, she exclaimed:
"You know that ol' hinano! Ol' time we use that Tahiti cologne. Girl put that on pareu an' on dress, by an' by make whole body jus' like flower. That set man crazee; make all man want kiss an' hug."
Doubtless, our foremothers when they sought to win the hunters of their tribes, took the musk, the civet, and the castor from the prey laid at their feet, and made maddening their smoke- and wind-tanned bodies to the cave-dwellers. When they became more housed and more clothed, they captured the juices of the flowers in nutshells, and later in stone bottles, until now science disdains animals and flowers, but takes chemicals and waste products to make a hundred essences and unguents and sachets for toilet and boudoir. These odors of the hinano and tiare were philters worthy of the beautiful Tahitian girls, with their sinuous, golden bodies so sensualized, so passionate, and so free.
The ordinary life of the Tiare Hotel was all upon the broad verandas which surrounded it, their high lattices covered with the climbing bougainvillea and stephanotis vines, which formed a maze for the filtering of the sunlight and the dimming of the activities of the streets. On these verandas were the tables for eating, and in the main bungalow a few bedrooms, with others in detached cottages within the inclosure.
There was a parlor, and it was like the parlors of all ambitious Europeans or Americans in all islands—a piano with an injured tone, chairs blue and scarlet with plush covers that perspiring sitters of years had made dark brown, a phonograph, and signed photographs of friends and visitors who had said farewell to Tahiti. There were paintings of flowers by Lovaina, showing not a little talent and much feeling. All these were the pride of her birthright—"Murricaine" fashion, as the hostess said pensively.
I have said that the life of the hotel was upon the veranda, and so it was at meal-time and for the casual tourist staying a day with a steamship to or from New Zealand or the United States; but to the resident of Tahiti, the American, Britisher, or non-Latin European, the place of interest in Papeete other than the clubs was a small porch approached from the street by a few steps.
On this tiny porch was a large table, and behind it a couch. The table was the only desk for letter-writing, the serving-stand for meals, the board for salad and cake-making, and the drink-bar. A few feet removed from this table, and against the wall, was a camphorwood chest on which two might sit in comfort and three might squeeze at angles. In the chest was kept all the bed and table linen, so that one might often be disturbed by the quest of sheets or napkins.
Upon this little porch the kitchen, bath, and toilets opened, a few feet from the table. It was the sleeping and amusement quarters of five dogs, the loafing place for the girls, the office of the hotel, the entry for guests to the dining-room or to the other conveniences. Through it streamed all who came to eat or drink or for any other purpose. The hotel having grown slowly from a home, hardly any changes of plumbing had been made, and men and women in dressing-gowns, in pajamas, or in other undress came and went, under the interested gaze of idlers and drinkers, and they had often to endure intimate questions or badinage. All were on a footing as to the arrangements, and I saw the haughty duchess of the Noa-Noa follow Lovaina's American negro chauffeur, while a former ambassador waited on the chest. There was no distinction of rank, since Tahiti, excepting for an occasional French official, was the purest democracy of manners in the world, a philosophy the whites had learned from the natives, who think all foreigners equally distinguished.
Those not of the South Seas, and unused to the primitive publicity of the natural functions there, suffered intensely at first from embarrassment, but in time forgot their squeamishness, and perhaps learned to carry on conversations with those who drank or chatted outside.
The Tahitian cook slept all day between meals on a chair, with his head hanging out a window. He was ill often from a rush of blood to his head. Lovaina had offered him a mat to lie on the floor, but he pleaded his habit. All the refuse of the kitchen was thrown into the garden under this window, and with the horses, chickens, dogs, and cats it was first come, first served.
On the couch back of the table Lovaina sat for many hours every day. Her great weight made her disinclined to walk, and from her cushions she ruled her domain, chaffing with those who dropped in for drinks, advising and joking, making cakes and salads, bargaining with the butcher and vegetable-dealer, despatching the food toward the tables, feeding many dogs, posting her accounts, receiving payments, and regulating the complex affairs of her menage. She would shake a cocktail, make a gin-fizz or a Doctor Funk, chop ice or do any menial service, yet withal was your entertainer and your friend. She had the striking, yet almost inexplicable, dignity of the Maori—the facing of life serenely and without reserve or fear for the morrow.
Underneath the table dogs tumbled, or raced about the porch, barking and leaping on laps, cats scurried past, and a cloud of tobacco smoke filled the close air. Lovaina, in one of her sixty bright gowns, a white chemise beneath, her feet bare, sat enthroned. On the chest were the captain of a liner or a schooner, a tourist, a trader, a girl, an old native woman, or a beach-comber with money for the moment. It was the carpet of state on which all took their places who would have a hearing before the throne or loaf in the audience-chamber.